Book Review: “The Indian Clerk”

The Indian Clerk

I had a book review blog (book review blog) 
When I would read a book, I was conscious about delivering a review upon finishing, then I was unable to access the blog to add new material, so I stopped. I miss that, but I don’t wish to create a new blog dedicated to book reviews. I read two excellent books in September: “The Quality of Mercy” by Barry Unsworth and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for which I left no reviews.

Now I have just finished “The Indian Clerk” by David Leavitt.

This is a fictitious biography about real historical figures: the largely self taught Indian mathematical genius Ramanujan’s time at Cambridge and his mentor Hardy. The novel is told mostly from the perspective of Hardy. I hadn’t realised it was a novel at first, not until the supernatural element of Hardy being visited by the ghost of his former lover. Hardy himself is a brilliant mathematician and is intrigued when he receives a letter from a lowly Indian clerk from a small village in the vicinity of Madras with potentially ground breaking unproven theorems related to prime numbers. Hardy along with his collaborator Littlewood and a young don, Neville, arrange for Ramanujan to come to Trinity College. Ramanujan arrives in Cambridge just before the First World War with little previous schooling but showing a prodigious gift for mathematics. There is a clash between east and west, initially Ramanujan had been reluctant to cross the ocean being a devout Hindu. Then there is the difficulty presented by his vegetarian diet in wartime Britain and his failing health. The book has a lot of detail about the stifling closeted atmosphere of Cambridge, where many of the other fellows are hostile to admitting an Indian to their ranks. Famous figures of the time like Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and DH Lawrence have small roles in the plot. The novel is almost 500 pages long and can be slow at times, it took me the whole month of October to get through it.

My rating 4 out of 5


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